By Willie Drennan.
I had never been to a GAA match before and the very first time I did I got to play on the pitch at
Croke Park: Ireland’s spiritual home for all
things sporting, cultural, historical and even political.
As a professional performing artist I perform in all kinds of situations and only on rare occasions would I consider turning down a gig due to problems I might have with the ethos of an event. But, when I was contacted recently to perform my Lambeg drum in
for a commemoration of 1916: in after a GAA match, I
did hesitate. Croke
The organisers, Tyrone Productions, wanted me to bring along a few other Lambeg drummers and so a fair bit of discussion took place among my fellow musicians about potential sensitivities relating to this event.
It was explained to me, by Tyrone Productions, that this would be a spectacular commemoration of Irish history, from ancient times up to 1916. It was to include reference to the crucial role of Irish soldiers in the First World War as well as the Easter Rising. They wanted the epic performance to address all traditions on the
. The symbolism
of the Ulster Lambeg was therefore significant.
But of course with the event being on the 24th of April, the
exact centenary anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a significant element of
the show would relate to this. This was where I hesitated. island
Growing up as an Ulster Protestant I was very aware that my forebears, on both sides of my family, had signed the Ulster Covenant in 1912 and fought for the British military in World War One. At least one of my grandfathers was in the UVF, as were several of my great uncles. As a child I heard many of the stories of the time period: the pride and honour felt at the courageous stand taken as well as the excruciating grief when telegrams were delivered to say sons would never again return home.
With recent centenaries in
Northern Ireland I have naturally
reflected on the events that older generations of my family spoke of with pride
and passion. These commemorations also allowed me to reflect on what the deeds
of one hundred years ago meant for us today. They also allowed me to reflect on
what it possibly meant for Irish nationalists. I came to the realisation that
for the most part, the common folk on both sides genuinely believed they had no
alternative but to fight for their freedom and for the freedom of future
For thousands of young Irishmen this meant fighting and dying alongside British soldiers in World War One: in the same pursuit of the same freedom.
Shipped off to war on some foreign shore
Alongside Sons of
they fought at the fore Britain
Alongside Sons of
they breathed their last breath England
Alongside Sons of
they died the same death. Ulster
It was for the same freedom they bore the same cross
You may see it different but it’s all the same loss.
[from ‘Young Sons of Erin’ by Willie Drennan on ‘Somme’ CD by
Scots Folk Orchestra. 2006] Ulster
Surely there was validity in John Redmond’s belief that The British Establishment would justly reward the sacrifice of
during WW1? Surely Home Rule, as a
stepping stone to independence, would have been inevitable in the short term
regardless of the Easter Rising? Perhaps there is validity in the belief of
many that the Easter Rising was a futile waste of precious human life, in the
same way as many have perceived the Battle of the
On the flip side though, especially for descendants of the participants and supporters of the Easter Rising, it is easy to understand their need to commemorate the bravery of the 1916
martyrs. Centenary commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising are clearly as
necessary and as poignant for Irish Nationalists, as the Signing of the Ulster
Covenant was for Ulster Unionists. Remembering the human sacrifice in Dublin then becomes as essential as remembering the human
sacrifice at the Somme.
Yes, commemoration of major events one hundred years ago should be encouraged: they can help us understand the significance and impact of certain historic defining moments. To date, centenary celebrations in both
Northern Ireland and the Republic
have been mostly carried out with
dignity and respect for the other tradition.
With this in mind my fellow Lambeg drummers and I decided to accept the offer to perform at the
event. From many previous experiences in different
parts of the Republic, I was confident that we would be treated with total
respect and that we would be recipients of the renowned Irish warmth and
hospitality. That’s exactly how we were
treated. Croke Park
We did have one awkward moment when there was a clear clash of cultures. When we first arrived at Croke Park car park on the Saturday morning for rehearsals, a couple of my drumming friends decided to have a quick practice: as is normal procedure for any musician prior to rehearsal or performance. Some nearby residents however hurled their vocal disapproval from upstairs windows and phone calls of complaint were immediately made to the management of
We were somewhat taken aback by this reaction. If it had been really early in
the morning: like before 8am, it would have been more understandable. But, it
wasn’t: it was at least 8.15am by this stage. Someone at Croke Park
however told us that we shouldn’t be taking these complaints personally as it
wasn’t just the Lambegs they didn’t like: the local residents didn’t like the
music of Garth Brooks either.
As part of the spectacular show on the pitch, following the GAA League Finals, our role was to participate in the “drumdance” section: a dramatic stand-off between drummers and dancers. The dancers were absolutely brilliant. You can view this part of the show: which was conceived, expertly choreographed and directed by Ruan Magan, on: https://www.facebook.com/willie.drennan.73.
The end result was a very positive experience for me and fellow Lambeg drummers. Hopefully, our contribution at the
“Laochra – GAA 1916 Commemorations,” will be viewed as another small step forward for the new common Cause of 2016: for the promotion of mutual respect,
understanding and harmony among this island’s differing traditions. Croke Park